MORONI (Reuters) - An Airbus A310 from Yemen with more than 150 people on board crashed into choppy seas as it came in to land on the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros on Tuesday, officials said.
French military planes took off from the Indian Ocean islands of Mayotte and Reunion to search for the Yemenia aircraft that was carrying nationals from France and Comoros.
An official from the state carrier said the plane had 142 passengers and 11-crew on board. It was flying from Sanaa to Moroni, the capital of the main island of the Comoros archipelago.
“There is a crash, there is a crash in the sea,” said an unnamed official who answered the phone in the Yemenia office in Moroni before hanging up.
It is the second Airbus to plunge into the sea this month. An Air France Airbus A330-200 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing 228 people on board on June 1.
“Two French military aircraft have left from the island of Mayotte and Reunion to search the identified zone, and a French vessel has left Mayotte,” said Hadji Madi Ali, director General of Moroni International Airport.
In 1996, a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 also crashed into the sea off the Comoros islands in 1996, killing 125 of 175 passengers and crew.
“The plane has crashed and we still don’t know exactly where. We think it’s in the area of Mitsamiouli,” Comoros Vice-President Idi Nadhoim told Reuters from the airport.
Ibrahim Kassim, a representative from regional air security body ASECNA, said the plane had probably come down 5 to 10 km (3 to 6 miles) from the coast, and civilian and military boats had been mobilised to start searching.
“We think the crash is somewhere along its landing approach,” Kassim told Reuters. “The weather is really not very favourable. The sea is very rough.”
ASECNA -- the Agency for Aviation Security and Navigation in Africa and Madagascar -- covers Francophone Africa.
The town of Mitsamiouli is on the main island Grande Comore.
Interior Minister Hamid Bourhane told Reuters the army had sent small speedboats to an area between the village of Ntsaoueni and the airport.
“At the moment we don’t have any information about whether there are any survivors,” he told Reuters.
A medical worker in Mitsamiouli said he had been called in.
“They have just called me to come to the hospital. They said a plane had crashed,” he told Reuters.
A United Nations official at the airport, who declined to be named, said the control tower had received notification the plane was coming into land, and then lost contact with it.
Yemenia is 51 percent owned by the Yemeni government and 49 percent owned by the Saudi Arabian government. Its fleet includes two Airbus 330-200s, four Airbus 310-300s and four Boeing 737-800s, according to the company Web site.
The Comoros covers three small volcanic islands, Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli, in the Mozambique channel, 300 km (190 miles) northwest of Madagascar and a similar distance east of the African mainland.
Additional reporting by Richard Lough in Antananarivo; Inal Ersan in Dubai; David Clarke in Nairobi; Pascal Lietout in Paris; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and David Clarke; Editing by Jon Hemming